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Eagles on Third Reich Flags 1933-1945 (Germany)

Last modified: 2014-04-10 by pete loeser
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Discussion: Eagles on Third Reich Flags

     The Nazi National Eagle was roughly the former eagle holding a swastika - the same eagle was officially on the German steel helmets.
Norman Martin, January 1998

     I am a bit confused by references to the "National Eagle" described by Norman Martin. This is in fact the Wehrmacht eagle, which was somewhat similar to the eagle of the Weimar Arms except that it stands on a swastika. As he noted, this eagle was to be seen on the steel helmet as worn by the Army and Navy (though not by the Luftwaffe or the Waffen-SS). It was a shield-shaped badge (dark green background, white eagle) worn on the left side of the helmet; a shield with diagonal stripes of black-white-red was worn on the right side.
     The "National Eagle" - or a version of it - was worn over the right pocket on Army and Navy uniforms and also as a cap badge. This was the more familiar style with spread wings, standing on a swastika within a wreath. The Waffen-SS wore a similar-but-not-matching eagle on the left sleeve, and the police had still another type.
     Bottom line? There were quite a few different patterns of Nazi eagles. Some were Party badges, some were strictly military, while others were national symbols, e.g. the version used on the Government Authorities flag [Reichsdienstflagge]. But the one you refer to as the "National Eagle" was in fact reserved for the armed forces. It was applied to Hitler's Führer standard because he became the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces after the death of old President von Hindenburg in 1934 and his assumption of the powers of the presidency as Führer and Reich Chancellor.
Tom Gregg, 18 December 1997

     There were three basic types of eagles used on Nazi era flags (there actually was a fourth: a modification of the Fridriacian type used in a few minor ones):

  1. The first was a modification of the eagle adopted as a Party symbol with the wings outspread and the swastika in a wreath below. This was used in almost all of the Party flags, but also in the canton of the Government Authorities flags [Reichsdienstflagge] as well as the Army, Navy and party caps and on the right pocket of Army and Navy uniforms and on the [left] arm of the Waffen-SS. For convenience, I refer to this as the "Party type eagle".
  2. A second one, which I refer to as the "Nazi National Eagle" is basically the Weimar era eagle grasping a swastika. This was used in a few flags (e.g., the Grossadmiral's flag) but also in places in which you would expect a coat of arms, e.g., as wall decoration at the front of the Reichstag, and also on Army helmets. Because this is a slight modification of the eagle that was referred to as Reichsadler [Imperial or National Eagle] in previous regimes, I have referred to it as the "Nazi era National Eagle".
  3. The third kind was a "flying" eagle associated with the Luftwaffe. I referred to this type as the "Luftwaffe eagle".
     Of course, all three were considered to be Hoheitszeichen and hence in that sense "national eagles".
Norman Martin, 18 December 1997

     My only additional comment would be that the eagle to which Norman Martin refers as "Party type" existed in a number of variants, e.g., the one worn as a cap and arm badge by the Waffen-SS was different from the one used as a cap and breast badge by the Army and Navy - and, as he points out, the Luftwaffe had its own distinctive pattern. The version worn as a cap badge with Party and SA uniforms was slightly different again. That is why Norman Martin's calling it a "Party Eagle" threw me for a momentary loop.
     The type Norman Martin calls the "National Eagle" was much used on German Army insignia and badges, e.g., it figured in the design of the close-combat and assault badges, several of the arm shields awarded as campaign decorations and on the badges worn with marksmanship lanyards.
     On a more flag-related note, it appeared as the central device on the large arm badge worn by Army standard bearers. This badge was shield-shaped and depicted the eagle in black over crossed military standards [colours] in the appropriate arm-of-service color, with a sprig of oak leaves below.
Tom Gregg, 18 December 1997

     Indeed, there were many variations. As far as I know, this variety of eagle originated around 1928 or so as a rather small eagle cap device on SA and other Party related caps. As time passed, it not only spread to the Army and Navy, but was used more and more in the Party and also grew in width, so that the very late Party cap insignia got to look more and more like that of the Armed Forces. I found it convenient to skip over these fine points, partly because it would be too hard to distinguish all the types and for flag identification purposes not necessary to do so.
     It is an interesting, but perhaps difficult issue to note that given the diverse history of the two main types of Nazi eagles - one of straightforward Nazi origin, the other as modification of the historic Reichsadler - there might be some amount of ideological (or propaganda) significance in where one or the other was used. I do not really have a theory here, but I wonder.
Norman Martin, 19 December 1997

     It seems that the Army favored the "National Eagle,"" though the "Party Eagle" appeared as well, e.g., as a cap and breast badge, on the military police gorget, and on a couple of the arm shields awarded as campaign decorations, e.g. the Crimea Shield [which is shown here in Marcus Wendel's Axis History Factbook].
     Nazi symbols were introduced into the Armed Forces as a result of the Deutschland Agreement of 1934, so called because it was made on board the armored cruiser Deutschland during the annual military maneuvers. Hitler agreed that the Armed Forces would be "sole bearers of arms for the Reich" and he promised to suppress the military pretensions of the SA - a promise kept soon after in the Night of the Long Knives. In return, the Army agreed to support the Hitler regime, and one of its minor concessions was the addition of Nazi insignia to military uniforms, i.e., the "Party Eagle" was adopted as a cap and breast badge. When Nazi symbols were added to military colors, however, the "National Eagle" was used.
     The "Party Eagle" as used by the Army and Navy differed from other versions in that the wings were less pointed.
Tom Gregg, 20 December 1997

     There were four main types of eagles in use by the German military during the 1933-1945 era.
     There were two Wehrmacht eagles, the first was the eagle with the wings in a turned down position, seen on the standards and flags and on the side of the helmet of the Heer and Kriegsmarine.
     The other was with the wings outstretched, seen most prominently on the caps and over the breast pocket of Heer and Kriegsmarine uniforms. The characteristic of this eagle that separates it from the one used by the Waffen-SS which was very similar is that the national/ Wehrmacht eagles' wings had the top feather as the longest, whereas the Waffen-SS eagle has the center feather as the longest.
     The Luftwaffe used a modification of the same style eagle, made to look as though it were in flight.
Vinson R. Nash, 12 September 2000

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